The ten-minute found poem

Here's an exercise which I wish I could think of a way to use in a fiction workshop, but I'm not sure it'd really work: did you see Neil Gaiman's post this morning? He's written a found poem-- that is, taken an existing passage of text and turned it into a poem. You can get away with this kind of thing in poetry, because you're doing something new with the passage you find; its meaning changes, the ideas change. It's harder, if not impossible, to achieve the same thing by taking an existing passage of prose and presenting it out of context: at best, you're just quoting.
It's an interesting approach to teaching the ways in which lines can fit together, though, and how one line can follow another. Maybe it could work if the exercise required that you rewrite the passage with the sentences in a completely different order...maybe. I'm still not sure what the point would be, in the context of a fiction workshop.

Anyhoo, the post made me want to write a found poem, too-- and, well, there I already was, and there was some text. So I wrote one. Sorry, Neil.


did I ever really live
in a very tall house
filled with conjurers

and acrobats
in a county down
among the bees

are these real things
or just things I've

all the questions are new
not just questions
but barked cries

all I remember
is the unbearable

and the memory
of saying them
and the memory of me

because I can
because I can
because I can



pantagruel said...

I'm leaning toward cheeky. ;)

Jess said...

Uh oh. Rumbled. :D

Rubius said...

Jess, Thank you. I like this. I didn't know that what Neil did had a name. (I should have though.) I found that sentiment on his blog, the one about the newness of the questions and the way the answers age, fascinating and so true. But that is Neil, whenever he writes something I think 'gee, I totally understand that, I really wish I could have expressed myself like that, he makes it so clear'.

spacedlaw said...

I haven't seen Neil's blog but I like what you have done here.

spacedlaw said...


Calvin once complained
- Calvin once complained –
That there were
Buttons in the world.

Let’s be clear:
He never
Never, never, never,
had haberdashery in mind.
Not a frivolous man, he.

What he was
Promoting at the time were belly buttons.
Loved them for some reasons.

Loved them for some reasons.
Which he never bothered to explain at the time,
Causing now puzzled scholars world wide to
Seek the source of this passionate cry.

Since there are plenty of human beings in the world, i\
It was obvious
That he did not mean to encourage further
On the part of mankind.
We are a tad OVERLOADED as it is and
Making a mess of the planet already.

So that leaves us only one interpretation:
Calvin thought that we
– us: men, women –
should have more than one belly button.
MORE than one belly button.
Now it would be easy to succumb to the temptation and
Start joking about his obvious
Self centred
Fetishism and
Sigmund Freud into this.
But think for a moment.

Think for a moment.
There are a few things that distinguish us,
Human beings,
From mere animals.
The ability to reflect,
A self conscience,
And belly buttons.

By hoping for more of those for mankind,
Calvin was in fact
Urging us to become MORE human,
To evolve further away from the crowd of beasts,
To emancipate ourselves from our animal roots and urges,
To become super humans,
To come closer to an ideal
– Purer –
Ethereal life.

From mere perfectible beings
To develop further and
BE perfect.
As the first umbilicus is a link to our material
– Animal –
The second would serve as a direct link to a form of divinity,
Whose parenthood and
Would be therefore unmistakable.
And inescapable.
Reforms and dissents
Would not be needed
Mankind would be flawless.

No more sins,
No more wars,
Harmony everywhere.

And besides
Belly buttons are such a cute thing to play with.

Jess said...

Wooo! \o/

I like that, Nathalie. :) I'm assuming this is a found poem-- but for some reason I think it's one of your stories. Am I right?

Thanks, Rubius. I've always especially liked Neil's blog for the things he has to say about writing. He just has a neat way of looking at and thinking about language and storytelling, and a succinct way of talking about it, that I find really helpful. It's good stuff to learn from. :)

spacedlaw said...

Of course it is. I had written this as a reply to one of the "on the premises" contest - and did not make it, but I had great fun writing it nevertheless.

Jess said...

That was a rather awkwardly-worded question I asked, wasn't it? I'm worried now that my comment reads as though I thought it wasn't something you'd done, which wasn't what I meant-- I'm sorry if it came across that way. :( It's absolutely your writing style and humour-- I just couldn't remember whether it was something of yours that I knew already.

I thought I remembered this from your LJ, though! It's interesting as a poem-- something about the way it sets apart the imperative lines, and gives more weight to each sentence. I like it in this form. :)

AletaMay said...

This is great Jess! I loved those exact words you used here when I first read them and you have formed them into a new and also beautiful thing.

I want to try this too!

Jess said...

Do it! It's fun. I'd love to see what you come up with, if you feel like sharing it. :)

spacedlaw said...

I think the absurdity of the piece shows it clearly as something of mine - and I knew you would recognize it as such. Don't worry Jess, I just did not have the opportunity to "find" a piece of writing that wasn't mine, so I just went and rediscovered an old June 2007 text that was on my computer. The REAL challenge would have been to do something with a work related document (the only thing on my computer which are not always written by me, such a program board papers or Ariane 5 launcher safety manual. Thrills.)

Dragonsally said...

I love it Jess, and I can still hear Neil's voice which is cool.
Love Spacedlaw's piece too.

Jess said...

Oh, Nathalie! The Ariane 5 launcher safety manual! You have to do something from the Ariane 5 launcher safety manual. That would be brilliant. :D (Sometimes I think the duller the found text, the better the poem ends up being...)

Hi, Dragonsally! Thank you for all your kind comments (and I hope you don't mind my replying to them on this one)-- it's nice to see you here. :) I'm glad you ordered the Le Guin book-- it's really worth it. I'm thinking I may go through it again, actually. I ended up got a lot of mileage out of those exercises.

spacedlaw said...

Product or Quality Assurance manuals are the driest things.
I have been toying with the idea of transforming some our Program Board papers into Humument type creatures (another great exercise) but they tend to have the most boring verbs and hardly any adjectives, which makes it very challenging.

spacedlaw said...

If you are still looking for an exercise for your students, you could try haynaku.
Not nearly as easy as it seems (in particular if you are trying to tell a story using the technique).

Marjorie said...

Cheeky maybe, but lots of fun, and I love the end result. As Aletamay says, it seems to have your voice but still Neil's as well.

I may have to take up Nathalie's challengs and try something based on a work document (mine are mostly draft court orders relating to financial settlements - so definately a challenge!)

Jess said...

Hi Marjorie! Thank you. I'd love to see someone do a work document of some description. I'm convinced it could produce something interesting. :)

That looks like a fun form to play with, Nathalie. I like using those sorts of forms when playing around with poetry-- anything that makes it seem more like doing a puzzle seems to help a lot. I don't know why.

spacedlaw said...

Am sitting through a VAT seminar and it is sprouting hay(na)ku, a clear proof that surrealism is in full swing...